Although Jalen Wilson spent a year in the Kansas program before emerging as a starter, he was an unproven commodity.
A broken ankle sidelined Wilson after two games last season. His freshman redshirt was then spent rehabilitating and learning Bill Self’s system the hard way, without practice.
Let it be known Wilson came in ready this season, quickly positioning himself as a leader the No. 5 Jayhawks (5-1) look to as they continue a five-game homestand Friday against Omaha (2-4).
“It’s getting to the point where we kind of expect him to produce,” Self said. “He has no fear. I didn’t think he had any (fear), but until you’ve actually coached him, once we started playing, I mean, this dude’s got no fear. He likes the moment. I look for him to continue to improve and give us more and more as we move on.”
The most recent moment in which Wilson delivered was clutch. He nailed a game-winning 3-pointer with 42 seconds left Tuesday night to snap a tie and eventually give Kansas a 73-72 victory over No. 8 Creighton.
Wilson’s aggressive nature did surface late in that showdown when he committed a foul that gave the Bluejays a chance to send the game into overtime with 1.1 seconds remaining. However, Wilson’s second double-double of the season held up to key a win in regulation.
“Being hurt last year with such a great team we had, that motivated me every day to get better,” Wilson said. “I tried to motivate them as much as I could from practice and on the sideline in games.
“I was just trying to let everybody know that I’m going to work hard just like they did the whole year. Even though our season was ended last year (by the coronavirus pandemic), we have a chance this year, so I’m excited to give everything I have.”
Already, Wilson has proven capable of providing a lift by battling inside, both for points and rebounds, and also defending at a high level. He’s second for Kansas in scoring (15.0) and leads in rebounding (8.8), and gives the Jayhawks a versatile performer they can use in different spots depending on whether center David McCormack is on the court.
After Self compared the close matchup with Creighton to a second-week game in the NCAA Tournament, the Jayhawks figure to be able to relax and use additional combinations against the second straight team they’ll face from Omaha.
The Mavericks (2-4), members of the Summit League, do possess seasoned experience. They used a dunk from one of their seniors, Matt Pile, to beat Southern Illinois-Edwardsville in the closing seconds Saturday for a 65-63 road win.
Pile leads Omaha in rebounding (9.5), while Marlon Ruffin paces the team in scoring (13.4).
“I think we’re extremely deep,” said Ayo Akinwole, the Mavericks’ leader in assists (2.5). “We’ve got a lot of players who have shown they can play at a pretty good level. This nonconference (schedule), these first nine or 10 games, is going to show us what everything is all about.”
–Field Level Media